Wednesday, October 28, 2009

For Goodness Sake

--Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

As a religious woman, I am convinced that the goodness in my life is grounded in a belief in God and as a Christian woman, I am convinced that the model for that goodness comes through Jesus. However, this is not a universal and I do know that there are plenty of people in this world who act in a good manner without the belief in a higher power. And to further that, there are many religious people who act in decidedly non-good manners, we could even call it evil, and do it under the guise of religious fervor.

A good friend of mine is an atheist. Not one who has been devoid of religious opportunity, but one who, after seeing the options, decided to be a conscientious atheist. According to the idea that goodness can only come from God, this would mean that this woman, no matter how hard she tried, could never be good until she grounded herself in a higher power. This woman, however, is studying to be a nurse and enact change in public policy and healthcare reform. Should she just stop now? Another atheist friend of mine is studying race relations and the inequalities therein. In fact, some of my friends who are the most "good" in societal terms are atheists. This in and of itself should disprove the idea that goodness is only possible through a relationship with God.

We as humans know what is right from wrong, it does not take a book filled with rules or a church building to instill those values in us. We know right from wrong because we are conscientious of other people. Why else does one feel guilt when one crosses the street to avoid a panhandler? Sure I can find a biblical text to support my guilt, but the initial feeling is one that is human. We know what is right and wrong because we can put ourselves in situations outside of our norm. Whether we choose to act on that knowledge is another case.

About 13 years ago, a three year old boy fell into the primate exhibit in Brookfield Zoo. A 150 pound female gorilla approached the little boy. According to the argument that something cannot be good without God, we should assume that this female gorilla would act in a decidedly un-good manner. Maybe harass the little boy for coming into her territory and threatening her kin, maybe attack. Instead, the female gorilla picked up the little boy, cradled it, and brought it to safety. That sounds pretty good to me, maybe even godly.

We must stop looking at ways to determine ourselves as better than others. Better than other religions, better than other people, better than creation. God created and God said it was good. It’s not our job to decide whether our goodness is more of God than others.


Ronald H Hoffman said...

I would like to think that goodness in people is recognized by God whether the person is religious or even a believer. My father was not a church person in any way, but he was a good person. I would like to think that God found a place for him. Especially today, on All-Saints day. Rachel - thanks so much for your posts.

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